The next several days were a blur for Harry. He woke up, had breakfast and spent mornings doing chores. The afternoons found him invariably walking through the streets of Little Whinging. Most days he ended up at the park sitting on the swings. Hedwig would fly down and spend the day sitting in a tree, watching Harry.
Harry was sitting on a swing twisting idly, watching the circles his trainers made in the sand, when he heard the swing next to his creak. A glance confirmed that the swing was now moving slowly back and forth, but there appeared to be nobody sitting in it. Harry was fairly certain that there was only one person familiar enough with him to try and get this close without announcing their presence, so he took a chance. Quietly he muttered, "'lo Tonks."
"How did you know?" came the reply from the vacant swing.
"I heard you sit down," Harry smiled, "that and I can smell bubble gum."
The weight on the swing lifted and Tonks was suddenly standing beside Harry. "Good job. You are pretty good. Of course, I'm not that much at sneaking. You're observant. That makes it much harder to sneak up on you."
"I couldn't imagine why I would be so observant. It's not like someone has tried to kill me five times," Harry replied peevishly.
"Hey, don't bite my head off. It was a compliment. I understand completely. Anyone in my line of work does." Tonks smiled at Harry and sat back down in the swing. "See anyone around? I've got a new one for you."
Harry scanned the deserted park and shook his head. "Nobody ever comes here but me and that lout I live with, anyway."
Tonks twisted up her face, and it began to change. First her nose began to recede, forming a flat snakelike nose with two large slits for nostrils. Her eyes began to grow and change color; then her chin pointed and elongated. Last, her hair changed color and grew. When she looked dead on at Harry, it was like staring at Voldemort, or rather, Voldemort as a caricature artist might draw him. Her nose had drawn in to the point that it was forming a dimple in her face, her nostrils so large that she could fit a Galleon inside. Her eyes were bulbous and fluorescent pink, with triangular pupils. Her chin jutted well away from her face, and her hair had become long green dreadlocks formed to resemble snakes. Two huge fangs sprouted from her mouth. When she opened her mouth to speak, Harry could see that her tongue was forked...with three tines. "Tho, watff to you fink?" Her fangs shrank back into her mouth. "What do you think? Kinda hard to talk with those teeth."
Harry was chuckling. "Oh, that's good. You might want to fix it before someone comes around, though." Harry had to admit Tonks could usually cheer him up, at least for a bit.
Tonks shrank back to her normal visage. "I thought you might like that one. It's always good to make fun of the dark lord." She shifted slightly in her swing, so that she was closer to Harry. "Thought you could use some good cheer. So, what's been eating at you lately? You haven't seemed as depressed, just...preoccupied."
"I've just been thinking a lot." Harry paused. Maybe he did need to talk to someone. He hesitated. "Er, Tonks?"
Tonks' expression settled as Harry's tone changed. "Yes, Harry?"
"Umm, have you ever been in love?" There, I said it. This was definitely unfamiliar ground for Harry.
"Oh, hundreds of times. Or did you mean real love?" Tonks replied.
Harry sensed that she could feel his uneasiness and was trying to relax him.
"I don't know, is there a difference? You see, there's this girl...." Harry paused.
"There often is," Tonks replied.
"Well, I know she used to say she loved me, and then she said she didn't, and we're good friends and all, but she told me some things, and I don't know how to respond, and I can't just ignore it, and what she said really helped and all, but I just...." Harry finally ran out of breath.
Tonks' smile made it clear to Harry that she knew what girl he was talking about. "Well, how do you feel about her? Are you asking me how to tell if you're in love with her? Because I can't answer that one for you."
Harry looked like a deer caught in the headlights. "No, no, I'm not in love with her. Some of the things that she said made me feel terrible for her. I didn't know how bad she had it. I guess she is sort of special to me. We shared an experience once...."
Tonks sighed, "Well, someone once said ‘love makes you do crazy things,' or something like that. Sometimes it makes you weak in the knees; sometimes you just can't stop thinking of someone. Sometimes it's just the contented smile that you get when you think of them. It doesn't really matter what you feel, you just know. Or so I've been told. I'm really not the best one to talk to about this. I really wouldn't let something like this worry you, though. She's a good friend that thought she could trust you with what she felt. She shared that with you, probably in hopes of making you feel better about what you are going through. She obviously cares about you and wants you to know that. We all do, Harry. Why else would we stand in front of that house in the hot sun and the pouring rain or the middle of the night. If it was just a job, we could find an excuse for leaving you alone. Even Dung. You know, I heard he passed up a ‘business deal' because he still had three more hours to go on shift." Tonks shifted uncomfortably. "Enough preaching. I have to get back out there, and I think you need to be getting home. It's almost dark."
Harry stood up and held out his hand to help Tonks out of her swing. "Thanks, I guess I just needed to talk about this, get it out of my head."
"No problem. That's what I'm here for, to make sure you're safe and sound." Tonks smiled and waved as she pulled her invisibility cloak over her.
Harry started walking back to the Dursleys. That's what it is. She's not in love with me; she just wrote those things to make me feel like I'm not alone.
Harry returned home that evening to find the house blessedly empty. There was a note left on the kitchen table that read:
Gone to dinner and a show. Put away the dishes, and don't make a mess.
Harry sighed. While the chores for tonight weren't difficult, he resented being considered slave labor for the month that he had to spend at the Dursleys‘. Longing for the time when he could leave, he quickly put away the dishes and made himself a sandwich. He carried his plate to his room and was just getting ready to take a bite when he was interrupted by a beeping noise coming from his back pocket.
Harry quickly stood and pulled his mirror out. Checking the face of it, he saw Ron's face, obscured by a white haze. He held the mirror up and spoke, "Hi, Ron." The haze disappeared and Harry could tell that Ron was in his bedroom.
"Harry, sorry, I would have called earlier, but Ginny's been hogging the mirror all day talking to Hermione," Ron scowled. "I don't know what they could babble on about all day, but there it is for you. Girls."
"S'okay. I've been out all afternoon, talking to Tonks. She and a couple of other members of the order have been following me since I got back this summer." Harry took a big bite of his sandwich and chewed slowly. When he had finished, he continued, "Tonks says hello, and she has some new faces to try out on you."
"Really? Great. I guess that's a lot better than not having anyone to talk to all summer. Listen, the reason that I called, umm.... Mum has been planning something, and I thought I had better warn you. She says that you can come stay on the first of August. She was saying the other day how it was a shame that you had to spend your birthday alone every year, so she's planning a surprise party for you. I know that Ginny and Hermione know about it; they were talking about having it in some park near you. Mum made me swear not to tell you, so of course I came right up here and called you. I know how much you like surprises." Ron smiled.
"Most of my surprises seem to be when things jump out and attack me," Harry replied. The thought of some of his most recent surprises reminded him of Sirius, and his face fell.
Ron saw the change on his friend's face. "Ah, damn, maybe I shouldn't have told you."
Harry gave Ron a half smile. "No, it's not that. I'll remember to act surprised. I just...well, you know."
Ron smiled in sympathy, "Yeah. Hey, did you hear about the last Cannons' match? That new seeker they have...."
Harry tuned Ron out. He knew that Ron could go on for hours talking about his favorite team, with very little help from Harry. He had seen it happen, numerous times. After about ten minutes of play-by-play, Harry stopped Ron. "Ron, I need to get to sleep; it's been a long day, and the Muggles will be home any time now." Harry hated to cut his friend off, but he really was tired.
"Er, right. Don't want them knowing there's something magic going on in the house. Hey, I'll call you later. How's tomorrow?" Ron looked on expectantly.
Harry shrugged. "About like any other day around here. I don't have any plans, so I'll be free all day. Have a good night."
"You too, mate," called Ron just before the mirror hazed over again.
When the haze cleared, Harry could see his reflection again. He put